More than half of all nannies, housecleaners and home care workers responding to a UCLA study of domestic workers say they experienced pressure from an employer to work in dangerous conditions, researchers reported Monday.
The report — “Hidden Work, Hidden Pain: Injury Experiences of Domestic Workers in California” — offers insight into the need for domestic workers to be included under California’s occupational safety and health protections, according to UCLA’s Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program, which worked on the study in collaboration with the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the California Domestic Workers Coalition.
An overwhelming majority of respondents — 85% — described workplace injuries resulting in chronic back, shoulder, arm or leg pain. More than half of respondents said they continued to work, despite their chronic pain, out of financial necessity and fear of losing their job.
According to supporters, workplace protections should be to be extended to residential domestic workers, which could be accomplished through the passage of Senate Bill 1257, the Health and Safety for All Workers Act. The Workers Coalition has pushed for domestic employees to be included in Cal/OSHA, especially now that they are at increased risk of exposure to COVID-19.
SB 1257 passed the State Senate in June and is expected to come before the State Assembly Labor Committee on Wednesday.
“The majority of domestic workers in California are migrant women whose immigration status leaves them vulnerable to be taken advantage of in their workplace,” said Veronica Ponce de Leon, a Health and Safety Educator from UCLA-LOSH. “Because these workers are vulnerable in so many ways and are so essential to the functioning of our society — and even more so now during the COVID-19 pandemic — it behooves us to take action to protect their health and safety at work.”
Occupational safety and health regulations already exist to protect hotel housekeepers, janitors, workers in hospitals, long-term care facilities and other health care settings, but they do not cover residential domestic workers, who share many of the same responsibilities and, consequently, injury profiles, she said.
SB 1257 would eliminate the exclusion of domestic workers from Cal/OSHA protections, allowing the agency to provide guidance to employers for how to protect the health and safety of their domestic employees and make it illegal for employers to retaliate against workers for defending their health and safety at work, according to NDWA.
“I think that including domestic workers in occupational health and safety protections is urgent not just because of what we are seeing during this pandemic, but also during more normal times,” said Emily Uy, a homecare worker and member leader with the Los Angeles-based Pilipino Worker Center.
“I had to pay almost $7,000 out of my own pocket for a chiropractor to treat my back after I badly injured myself lifting a client with ALS who was losing muscle control and was not able to move on her own,” she said. “And I missed more than two weeks of work but I didn’t get paid sick days. So just that one preventable injury really hurt me economically.”
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